What Unofficial Jewelry Tools Do You Use?

unofficial jewelry tools

Some of my favorite unofficial jewelry tools

Most of us wind up acquiring a nice stash of various jewelry tools over time.

Some of the things we use are “real” tools – pliers, cutters, reamers, files, crimpers, etc.

But do you also have a variety of odds and ends that you use as jewelry tools?

A few of my favorite “unofficial” tools that I use in making my jewelry are:

  • Colorful mini-clamps that I clip onto the far end of my beading wire to keep my beads from sliding off while I’m stringing.
  • Wooden popsicle sticks, marked with a Sharpie pen, which I use as template guides for measuring and marking where to bind wire bundles for common cabochon sizes.
  • Bone beads with various sizes of holes, which I pull leather cord through several times to soften, straighten and distress the cord.
  • A knife-sharpening stone, which I rub across the cut ends of wire to file off any sharp edges; it’s especially handy for heavier gauges of wire.
  • A leather-worker’s awl, for poking the holes in my earring cards (I used to use an icepick with equally good results).
  • Sharpie markers, which can be used to mark metals, color stamped lettering, or server as a mandrel.
  • My grandmother’s knitting needles, which range from tiny to huge, are great as mandrels or for coiling wire.

There might be “official” jewelry tools that would do these jobs just as well as the odds and ends I use.

But I’m fond of these adapted devices, and I store them right alongside my pliers and other tools.  They’ve become part of the gang.

And I’m interested to know –

What unofficial jewelry tools do you use?

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  1. I like to do a lot of metal forming so I use a lot of mandrels, anvils, hammers etc. Been known to use everyday objects for forming too – cans, table edges….I’ll walk around the house looking for the right shape :)

  2. As an anvil, I use a cast iron clothing iron. This is the type that you placed on the wood/coal stove to heat up and then ironed the clothing until it was cool and had to placed back on the stove for reheating. It is light enough to be portable, so I don’t have to have a fixed location for it. I made a burnisher from an old electrical screwdriver with a bent tip. Both of these work very well.

  3. I picked up some small anivils in the automotive body work dept that I use for forming. Wherever I can find something affordable and usable.

  4. I use my knitting needles for forming different sizes of jump rings, and I’ve found a small 4 way nail buffer to be indispensable for wireworking to round, smooth, buff and polish metal. The large size at home, the tiny size for my emergency travel kit. The bonus for me is that they only cost $1.29 at Sally Beauty Supply, lol.

  5. Well, I guess I gotta start with something that gives away my age, but I can’t begin to do anything anymore without my very strong cheater glasses! Then there is my tape measure, and finally T-pins used for upholstery, emery boards, alligator clips, painters tape and fingernail polish. Teri

  6. Well, let’s see. I use a Sharpie marker to not only mark wire, but as my favorite mandrel around which I bend my wire. I, too, use an awl for my earring cards. I use an old glass ashtray for my flux that gets dried out. I can crush it with the base of my file (and nevermind the expensive jewelers’ files – I use the cheap carpentry files from the flea market!) and add water. I put scotch tape at the end of my beading wire so beads don’t slip off, and various dowels and nails as mandrels for making split rings along with the power drill from my toolbox.

  7. LOL…I use a tent stake to make my earwires with…best mandrel I have!!

  8. Thanks so much for posting about this! It’s always interesting to see what useful, unexpected purposes somethings can have. Reminds me that one doesn’t need the expensive tools for a certain job to get that job done – just look around your home, markets, hardware stores and the likes. Anything can be a potential for helping one create something :)

  9. I have 3 work surface trays. Two 18X28 inches and one 12.5X17.5 inches, all are heavy guage metal, proffessional baking sheets. I line them with a piece of microfiber to reduce bounce & roll. They allow me to work on my lap or any table I like and to set my work aside – with everything in place – and come back to it.
    I also have a hole punch I bought in the wedding section of Walmart for putting holes in earring cards.
    I have cutters for craft wire, but use a regular pair of cutters for memory wire and other heavier cutting.
    I use crochet needles as mandrels for making jumprings.
    I have a rotating kitchel tool holder that does just fine for all my “regular” and “special” tools.

  10. I LOOOOVE reading these – I am new and learning – but found that regular push-pins make good hole sizes for my earring cards. For attaching my card to my drawstring gift pouches, I use a hole punch that makes a smaller hole than usual, but big enoughf for the cord. Thanks to the more experienced for sharing!

  11. My favorite right now is a big nail. I use it to design my silver and copper pieces instead of using a purchased stamp.

  12. I have mandrels, but I end up bending my ear wires on a papermate pen most of the time. I use wooden dowels to wind jump rings, and often cut them right on the dowel. A piece of tapered a wood chair leg that I found makes a great mid-sized mandrel, and small steel nut picks from the flea market are wonderful burnishers. My favorite – I buy old used cross peen hammers at the flea market, and reshape the heads with a belt sander before I polish them to make all kinds of hammer heads. I also cut the heads off old toothbrushes and shape the handle with saw and files to make no-marring tools – bezel pushers, light bezel punches, etc. Plastic head hammers from the flea market are a s good as rawhide hammers, and can be reshaped on the sander as well.

  13. Probably my most-used unofficial tool is a pair of nail clippers! I have some with a slanted tip, and there is nothing better to cut the tail of a wire between small beads!

  14. I have a small tape measure I got as a prize in a Christmas cracker. I use it to measure not only the full length of my projects but it’s great to measure people too.
    Sometimes I use children’s baking sets to work with my clay. I especially like using the mini dough roller because it’s just the right size. I also use mini cookie cutters to cut out pendants from the clay. I like to put a piece of saran wrap over the clay before pressing down the cookie cutter to give it a beveled edge.

  15. I use lots of improvised stuff in my jewelry making. Knitting needles are great for mandrels, poking things in place, etc. I use crochet hooks to thread things and place things. I use Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers to keep works in progress together. Of course zip lock bags are used for storing everything. I use a four sided nail buffer (it is on a sponge backing) to smooth things out.

  16. Wow, lots of us think alike! I also use the 4-way nail buffers when I do metal clay projects and I use different types of metal nail files to smooth my earwires and to add a brushed finish and texture to my hammered metal. (I have the nail files for my jewelry students to use and they think they’re funny at first – but love them after they try them!) I also have an old film canister (remember those?!) I use as a mandrel for certain wire wrapping projects that doubles as a scrap metal holder and a 15 year old brass ‘nail kit’ that has a hemostat, tiny sharp scissors, mini file, and large, heavy duty nail cutters that are super flush and great when I don’t want to damage my good cutters!

  17. The “unofficial tool” I use most is a square glass tray from an old microwave. It is large enough to hold my bead board and still have room on both sides for supplies on one side and tools on the other. The sides are tall enough to keep everything from rolling off and I put a bandanna on the bottom to keep things from scooting around.

    I also have nail clippers, dowels, hardware pliers and whatnot, but I also use a lot of automotive tools that my son has (well, when he isn’t looking anyway). But as much as I use “unofficial tools” for making jewelry, I also use jewelry supplies “unofficially. My favorite story is using accuflex wire and crimp beads to fix the throttle on a lawn mower. It worked so well that we never did fix it “right”. I love multi-use tools!

  18. I love reading all these tips. Many I use myself, and others were a perfect “aha”! To add a new “tool” to the list, would be a pearl head stick pin, the kind used for pinning a corsage on. The pearl head makes it easy to find, against the many pieces of wire and head pins floating around. I find that it is easy for me to hold the pearl and use the tip to align beads in a channel of a bead board. I also use it to pick up a few beads in a pattern to see how they lie together. I use it for all other things as well and I find myself frantic if I can’t find it!

    Great ideas all!
    Enjoy the day!
    Erin

  19. Great tips! I use a small baby spoon to pick up seed beads, binder clips for the end of the wire when stringing beads, also have an awl and small paper punch for earring cards.

  20. I use mini binder clips to prevent beads from slipping of the end of my beading wire. I have small plastic tape measures (2 / $.88 at Walmart) in all my pocketbooks and beading bags, you never know when there will be a wrist that needs measuring. I use an unfinished wood tray with sides that I line with a felt square to provide a work surface for stringing and making earrings etc. (available @ most craft shpps for < $5.00. Plastic watercolor trays make a great open container when working with seed beads. Cupcake tins are great containers to hold beads by color at a child’s birthday beading party.

  21. OK- here is my idea of weird tools!
    I am a silversmith not a wire worker so I have different ideas for tools.
    The first thing is a big old set of knitting needles- they are all labeled on the flat end with their mm size and their inch size. They work great for making jump rings. They also can be clamped in my bench clamp and I can wrap silver wire around them for many inches. Since they are aluminum the wire coil slips right off no matter how tightly you wrap- this is not the case with wooden dowels. They are cheap!
    My second thing I couldn’t live without is discarded playing cards from the casino. They are great for little pads when I stamp or when I lay a sheet of sterling out to work on. They make little risers that are nice for propping cabs in bezels for pendants and rings. They are thick enough to use for a straight edge to draw a line or scratch on sterling sheet with the edge of a caliper.
    They are free.
    And last- at the soldering bench I use old worn out dental tools to push solder and silver bits around with. They are free.
    Just my 2 cents worth on tools. Unfortunately I have oodles of expensive tools I don’t use nearly as much.

    Jean Menden

  22. arleta lynn says:

    Enjoyed the tips…some new and great ideas. I’m a wire wrapper. I use a plastic sheet cake carrier with a lid and handle from walmart as my portable work space. I covered the bottom with leather, drew measurements in ink on the leather so I can easily roll my cab and measure the circumference…etc. I can fit several clear rigid plastic bags for various wires and all my tools (tools fit on the edge when in use) and a tray of stones…and it works great in my lap traveling down the highway (as a passenger!) making jewelry..I use it at home too..and, you can close it up. I love it!

  23. I’ve picked up so many great tool ideas here from y’all – thanks so much for sharing!

    Like Angela, I’ve also used jewelry supplies for unofficial purposes.

    Once when our puppies kept wandering out through a hole in the chain-link fence, I used flat-nosed jewelry pliers to neatly weave 21-gauge square brass jewelry wire across the hole!

  24. Hi, love the ideas above, a few of my own are dental diamond tip burs for drilling sea glass, nailclippers for getting right up to the edge of wire to cut it, disposable crudite plates with 6 sections..great for sorting beads at the end of the day into types, I use clear plastic take away boxes with snap on lids from our local Chinese restaurant..and keep all my beads in them stacked ten high..I have over 300 now…I use Blue Tack (the blue stuff used to hand up posters etc..think it’s called sticky tack in US?) for ends of wire instead of bead stoppers, a very ancient mustard spoon for scooping up tiny beads, a Victorain pearl topped hat pin for poking into bead holes when the wire just will not go through!

  25. These are great ideas! I have a small cafeteria-style plastic tray with sides. Half of it has a beading mat glued to it. I keep a large, 2-gallon zip-lock (slider style) handy, so that if I am in progress with a project, I can slide the tray into the bag. I figure, if the tray in the bag gets bumped, knocked to the ground, etc.. it would at least be easier to sort out pieces than if they all fell into my plush carpet. ;-)

  26. There are some tools here that I am not familiar with. Looks like I have some more research to do!

  27. Barbara Woodfin says:

    I use clear nail polish and glue for artificial nails as glue. Works best on light weight items, though. These go on and dry clear, so they work very well with flat back crystals.

    Barbara
    Sister Friends.

  28. Kimmie Blake says:

    Just this week I discovered that my deodorant makes a great oval mandrel for my sterling cuff bracelets!! (and I almost bought a $50 earlier this week- hahahahah take that economy!!!)

  29. Lynn Huddleston says:

    For storing all my metal bead findings, I use tiny cork-stoppered glass bottles – the type that contain bath salts and come in sets of 6 or 12. I have them all laid flat in a large white melamine tray which has handles – easily portable, easily visible, looks attractive and very cheap! I get most of these bath salts from car boot sales!
    I also use the little plastic boxes that business cards come in – useful for putting in assorted coloured odd beads.

  30. I store oversized beads and chain in those neat oval mayonnaise jars. The large flip top opening and the easily shelved size make it ideal. Smaller plastic jars, such as the ones that dried minced onions come in, are also great. My favorite storage, however, is my 15 drawer vintage library card catalog file. Each drawer holds a different color. Since the drawers are meant to pull out, I can pull a drawer of whatever color out and sort through it for the beads I want.

  31. Pilar Cardona says:

    Thank you for all those ideas!! Loved it!
    I read this tip on a web site: an old TV antenna to make jump rings of different sizes. Is lightweight and retractable, is portable. Also, I saw a You tube video of someone using a fork to open/ close medium and large size jump rings.
    I use a scrapbooking basket that has many pockets, compartments and handles. I keep my favorite tools and supplies there and can carry them easily.
    Sometimes I use safety pins to hold parts of a project and when I am beading it helps me stabilize my piece.
    Masking tape. Those “paper” strips that come with garbage bags (used to close the bags) are also handy (to wrap wire for storage).

  32. I also use an old fashion cast iron iron. I have a work bench that is a full length vise and I place the handle in it to use the face of the iron as a bench block. Then I use the handle as a mandrel. I also have a cast iron shoemakers last which gives me gently curved surfaces for shaping. I picked them up along with several hammers at a flea market.

  33. Bryan Stagg says:

    I love the idea about the old iron. My favorite two “unofficial s” are Old looking bottles, pier one has a ton of ‘em cheap! And Altoids tins for projects I am in the middle of or cool thing I wanna save. I think I have at least 50 of those.

  34. Well this topic is certainly hot!! It’s fun and so a part of us all. I’ve use wood buttons and sponges to set my sea glass on while drilling in water. I’ve used pens, markers, pencils and barbecue scewers for shaping wire..I’ve even gone as far as taking down a rod iron plant holder for shaping. Very fun post!
    Fair Winds and Calm Seas, Deborah Leon

  35. Not exactly a tool, but I found the cheapest sectioned plastic “bead” boxes in the fishing dept of our local farm store – Big R. They’re identical to what you pay big bucks for when labelled for craft projects. AND – the ones I buy even have a tarnish preventative incorporated in them. Fishing lures tarnish? How come this doesn’t come from craft storage boxes?

  36. I use a pair of nail clippers to cut my tigertail. I’ve found that nothing else gets through the plastic cover or cuts as closely.

  37. Thanks for the tips! I couldn’t do anything without hemostats and alligator clips. Try those breakfast-in-bed trays for ergonomics (when sitting), with any kind of plastic tray, cork, pillow or hand towel on top. Use the cup holder for tools! Use old bulletin boards or pieces of cork board to pin each project in progress (they stack and protect!). Old ice cube trays to separate beads in. Old computer cable for copper wire. And I found it all in thrift shops or hardware stores! (And yes, fishing lures, especially flies, are so much like making jewelry it’s funny. My brother ties flies, and the whole process is very similar! You should see the fancy boxes they have for those!)

  38. What a great topic! I appreciate the ideas. The main item I use is a worn out sewing machine needle. I have found that it is perfect for knotting between beads. It’s very strong and won’t bend when pulling the knot tight ( I work with glass pearls a lot) and I like the smaller size so that I can also use it as an awl if the bead hole needs to be widened.

  39. I am probably too late since my Internet has been out all day but loved the hints, esoecially the egg carton use for beads, etc. I have a cat who does strange things with my beads, findings, etc. and the other day, I found some beads in her little secret place, all in a neat little pile under my bed! Large prescription bottles make good mandrels for shaping bracelets, although I have learned to make the wire bracelet slightly oval when finished as it fits the hand better. Thanks for all.

  40. So many great ideas here! I use empty Chinese food containers (the kind used for soups) for my beads. These are sorted by color. I have a marble rolling pin for a bracelet mandrel and sometimes for light hammering, metal crochet hooks in every size for making loops and jump rings, old toothbrushes for cleaning small spaces in jewelry, tiny paint brushes for applying Liver of Sulfur on links and for applying patinas. I’m sure I have a lot of other unconventional “tools” I haven’t thought of. I repaired an iron patio table leg with brass wire where a screw had fallen off. Ah, we artists share so much ingenuity and resourcefulness!

  41. Some great ideas here, that I am going to mplement.

    I use medicine tube containers for bracelets, glue sticks ( instead of a mandrel) for making ear hooks, nail cutter for clipping wire – (this I learned from Rena’s site, where she discussed what tools can be taken/substituted when you are air traveling). What else?
    Scotch tape to clean up small wire cuttings that can not be saved. A small magnet to do the same thing and be sure that those clippings are not silver!
    That’s about all for now.

    Dita

  42. Wow, what great “tool” tips I have found on this post! Thanks Rena for the great topic. As a metal clay artist I use so many unofficial tools for texture and shaping. Cardboard, toys, just about anything. You can check out these things that I used and made a pair of fine silver earrings on my blog at: http://marnieismymuse.com/aliens-landed-in-my-studio-had-a-p-a-r-t-y/

  43. Hey I just read the post on using an ice pick or awl to poke through jewelry cards. You can use a small drill bit in your fordom or dremel and drill a dozen or more cards at once. I bought 500 cards and in a few minutes my 12 year old granddaughter had them all drilled for me!

  44. Dawn Piepenburg says:

    Great ideas! I bought at a yardsale a set of 5 teak nesting trays that I use for active projects. (They look nice all stacked too!) I bought a full-size velour blanket ($10) and cut liners for each of the trays. I also cut a large piece for my work table so that the beads do not roll on the floor if I am not using one of my trays. And I cut a piece for my traveling bead box. All of these ‘work holders’ are different sizes so cutting up a blanket is really cost effective. Plus I still have 1/2 blanket left.

  45. You know those dreaded instruments dental hygienists use when you’re having your teeth cleaned? Well, I use one for a much more pleasant task – bead knotting. I use clear canning jars for keeping bead soup in separate colour families, and the teeny containers some take-away places use for sauce become places to hold stray beads until I can sort them.

  46. I use a dental pick to clean out the holes of beads or spacers that have debris left in them. If you ask your dentist he or she might give you an old one they don’t use any longer.

    I used to make jewelry out of real rose beads and the dental pick is great for drilling out a hole in the center in order to place it on jewelry wire.

    I love everyone’s ideas!

  47. Pauline M. says:

    All these idea’s are great! I have used all kinds of antique kitchen tools, to old fridge shelves to hold ink stamps and such. Rolling pins, round light bulbs and metal pie tins adorn my craft room. If it’s not bolted down, it stands a good chance of being used at one time or another. My favorite tool however is a darling stuffed monkey my husband bought me years ago. I use it to display my newest jewelry creations. My family no longer wants to model for me. My monkey has never complained. Thanks Rena for all you do.

  48. So many excellent tips listed above. I use the small parts bins sold at the hardware stores to store my beads and findings. I also use the weekly medicine containers to take extra findings (ear hooks/leverbacks, etc) to the shows so when someone likes a pair of earrings, but not the hook I can easily switch them out. Harbor Freight is my candy store. I can browse for hours. I have purchased their magnetic tool holder strip and attached it to my bench. Easily holds my pliers and other tools so I don’t lose them in my messy bench.

  49. My favorite hammer is one of those triangular hammers the doctor bounceson knees to test for reflexes! Its a soft triangular rubber with a rounded tip…perfect for getting into small spaces – like the intricate crocheted wire rings I have been making lately. I got it at American Science Center for $2.00, and I have never seen anything like it sold in jewelry supplies catalogs.

  50. I use a 7 day pill box to organize my jumprings, crimpbeads, earring hooks and other findings. compact way to carry them around (in my handbag too).

  51. Leslie Schmidt says:

    I love to use the black plastic lids from the small ice cream containers (i.e. Ben & Jerry’s) to sort my beads (by size and color), and the spoon to scoop them around my bead board or putting the beads into small plastic baggies. I keep my beads in usually 3″ x 5″ baggies (or smaller or larger as needed) with the shipping label and manufacturer labels attached or inside with individual bead pricing right on the labels. Then these go into my Sterilite three-drawer containers I get at Target (I have at least 20 of these stacked up). I sort my beads by color and by type (glass, acrylic, silver, gold, copper colors). I keep my tools on/in a easy-carry wooden container that is meant for silverware and napkins for a table. My bead boards are placed in a one-inch baking sheet with sides that I also buy (a two-pack) at Target. I line them with shelf liner as the liner doesn’t slip around like a bead mat and the bead boards also don’t slip around. I have six of these made up and often with projects in progress stacked up on my table ready to work on whenever I have time.

  52. Tina Jensen says:

    One great tool was recommended to me by my local bead store when I went looking for a bead reamer. They use a spark-plug file from the automotive supply store, which has multiple heads in different sizes. The heads all fold inside the handle, making it compact and travel-friendly. My darling husband got me one for my Christmas stocking so I don’t know how much it cost, but it must have been less than $10 and will have many uses for years to come.

  53. alligator clips crazy glued to party stiks with color beads used to stop beads from falling off my bead wire….:)

  54. I buy small pliers at flea markets for very little cost. I have a flat nose pair that I glued a piece of leather to on to the inside of each side of the pliers. I use this to straighten wire and it works great.

  55. Kathie Condon says:

    Emery boards! I keep them to smooth down wire ends. My newest find is ice tube trays. They make long cylinical tubes of ice for bottles. They hold my pliers, cutters and anything else upright and easy to grab. I have several at my bench. Great for pens and pencils too. Found them at Wal Mart (I have no association to Wal Mart and receive no compensation from them).

  56. The files are great! You might want to add another to your list; a fish hook sharpener. You can find them in almost any sporting goods store or the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart, or K-Mart. They’re small and easy to work with on sharp edges with limited working space.

  57. My hand mixer for twisting wire. I play out about forty feet of wire – fold it in half, and fasten the center loop to a huge nail pounded into the end of my bench.I weave the wire ends around the center point of one paddle stick attach it to the mixer, hit the button and I’m in business – my husband has a drill with a chuck that I could do this with but my workspace is right next to the kitchen. I also bought a twisting plier but don’t really like it all that much, almost gave it away but figured hey -maybe sometime after the apocalypse I might want something without batteries or motors.

  58. I use a stick ripper, from my sewing box, to punch holes in my earring cards.

  59. I use old leather belts to make jewelry. Cutting a straight line on the end is difficult. So, I bought a wide wood chisel, one hit with a mallet and it’s done.

  60. Tammy Witowski says:

    I found a way for sorting jewelry, We buy those little applesauce snacks in the little cups and use those for sorting my jewelry, or we buy these chicken dinners and use the trays for that cause they got 3 little compartments in them. Its easy and cheap.

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